Wild bypass promising homestate draft crop

John Gilbert

Huskies catcher Ethan Gonzalez awaits perfect throw home, but LaCrosse runner Zach Wadas beat the tag to tie the game 11-11 in the eighth inning. However, Gonzalez stayed in position and got his tag down to nail Derrick Mitchell, trying to sneak home as the second runner, after Luke Anderson's hit. The Loggers won 13-12 in 10 innings. Photos by John Gilbert.

Here is a quiz for hockey fans in Minnesota: What two things do Zeev Buium, Ryder Ritchie, Aron Kiviharju, Sebastian Sion, Chase Wutzke and Stevie Leskovar have in common?

First, they are all six of the prospects drafted by the Minnesota Wild this year, and second, none of them is from Minnesota. Buium, a defenseman at Denver University, is from Laguna Niguel, California; Ritchie is a right wing from Calgary who played junior at Prince Albert in the Western Hockey League; Kiviharju is a defenseman from Turkey, Finland; Sonia is a defenseman from Tampere, Finland; Wutzke is a goaltender from Deloden, Sweden, who played junior at Red Deer in the WHL; and Leskovar is a defenseman from Cambridge, Ontario, who played junior at Mississauga in the Ontario Hockey League.

Meanwhile, here’s another quiz: What do Adam Kleber, Max Plante, Colin Ralph, Will Skahan, Brodie Ziemer, Will Sellers, Javron Moore, Jake Fisher, Hagen Burrows, John Whipple and Austin Burnevik have in common?

Those 11 players are all from Minnesota and all of them were also drafted by NHL teams. Kleber, a defenseman from Chaska, played junior at Lincoln and was taken 42nd on the first round by Buffalo; Plante, from Hermantown, played for the U.S. Development Program and was taken 47th by Detroit; Ralph is a defenseman from Maple Grove, who played at Shattuck and will attend St. Cloud State, taken 48th by St. Louis; and Strahan is  a defenseman from Woodbury playing at the USDP and headed for Boston College, taken 65th by Utah.

On the third round, Ziemer, a forward from Carver playing at the USDP and headed for the Gophers, taken 71st by Buffalo; Sellers, a forward from Maple Grove playing at Shattuck, was taken 76th by Colorado; on the fourth round, Moore, a forward from Minnetonka ticketed for the Gophers, was taken 112th by Ottawa; Fisher, a forward from Woodbury playing junior for Fargo, and going to Denver, was taken 121st by Colorado; and Burrows, a forward from Orono playing at Minnetonka and headed for Denver, was taken 128th by Tampa Bay; and on the fifth round John Whipple, a defenseman from Minnetonka, playing for the USDP and headed for Minnesota, was taken 144th by Detroit; and Burnevik, a forward from Ham Lake playing for Madison in the USHL, was taken 182nd by Anaheim.

That’s quite a list. Those lists also mean that Guerin picked one American (Buium), one Swede, two Finns and two Canadians on the Wild’s six picks. Plante was available before Guerin made his second pick, but he passed up a player who UMD fans are eagerly awaiting in a Bulldog uniform this fall.

Max Plante, in fact, will join his older brother Zam, who was drafted last year, as freshman teammates on UMD’s roster. The pair left Hermantown High School after leading the Hawks to a state title, and they are not unlike the Broten brothers when they played for Roseau in the 1970s.

Nobody questioned Neal’s set-up skills and great anticipation, and he could also beat you with quickness and goal-scoring ability. And nobody questioned that Aaron Broten was a little bigger, a little stronger, and had a fantastic shot. Playing together was a dynamic pairing, and Zam and Max could be the same for UMD coach Scott Sandelin — or he could separate them and get their considerable assets to lead two lines.

Either way, with the Plante Brothers plus assorted other blue-chip recruits coming in, Bulldog fans should be lining up for season ticket orders right now. This could be a crop of first-year players to rival that group that came in and led UMD to two straight NCAA titles.

Not only did Guerin ignore the clearcut value that Minnesota-raised hockey players could have on fan loyalty, but the professional National Women’s Minnesota franchise rudely dismissed women’s superstar Natalie Darwitz as general manager — after she guided the team to the league’s first playoff championship — but her replacement didn’t draft a single Minnesota native.

The only WCHA picks the club made were for Wisconsin’s Britta Curl, and St. Cloud State’s Klara Hymlarova, while also choosing two players from Clarkson, one from St. Lawrence, one from Northeastern, and one who didn’t play this past season, among their seven selections.

The Twins keep batting their way to overtaking the Cleveland Guardians, while the Duluth Huskies are battling through the Northwest collegiate league battles, but either way, if you love baseball, keep watching because you might always see something you’ve never seen before.

Last week’s LaCrosse Loggers series was further proof. In the first game of a doubleheader, the Huskies led 10-5, but the Loggers chipped away — to coin a phrase. A 4-run rally in the seventh evened it, and the Loggers won 13-12 in 10 innings.

But one play remains riveted in my ever-expanding memory of weird baseball plays. In the top of the eighth, LaCrosse had Zach Wades on second and Derrick Mitchell on first when Luke Anderson smacked a double in the outfield gap. A hasty but perfect throw to the plate was caught by Huskies catcher Ethan Gonzalez, who whirled but was a millisecond late putting the tag on Wades, who scored to tie the game 11-11.

Mitchell, speeding around third like an Olympic sprinter, was trying to score on the same play and almost overtook Wades. Gonzalez, still stretched out trying to take Wades, held his poise and got the tag down in time to nail Mitchell, whose run would have given LaCrosse the victory without needing extra innings.

I’ve never seen a play quite like that, at any level, and it makes trips to Wade Stadium worth the trip.